Garden Tilling Time

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The sun is finally out! That bright thing in the sky that hurts our eyes and burns my pasty white shoulders after a long winter of darkness and rain. The first 3-4 day stent of sun in the spring means one very important thing for farmers, time to till the garden! It does take a little while, and is kind of a pain in the butt, but it also means we can finally get going on the family fun, food producing vegetable garden!

  I always write these blogs, with kind of the “new farmer’ in mind, or maybe some folks that find the processes and lifestyles interesting but maybe don’t have a life time of knowledge, life lessons, and farming skills that some of us grew up learning from birth. So for those of us who live it every day, it will seem pretty simplistic, and redundant. For those other lovely folks however, Hopefully I can explain things in a simple and basic way that makes sense and kind of gives some insight to the hows and the why’s of farm life. With that being said, let move onto the topic of preparing garden soil.

There are a few basic things you need for a good garden location. First a spot that receives maximum sun exposure throughout the days rotating sun cycle. Once you find a good sunny spot you then need ingredient number 2, just as important, if not more important than the first; Water!

My first year i removed the rocks and boulders, pulled out most of the stumps that were still there from 30 year old logging (still have 1 large one in the middle I still need to dig out and remove), and I tilled up the soild and planted. That first year my garden did terrible, as expected due to lack of nutrients. This was expected, and we knew every year it would get better and better. Every fall the garden is done and all the plants and vines are ripped out (most of which get fed to cows and goats). Once this is done, then I clean out the cattle barn. Manure from 16 head of cattle provides about a 6″ thick layer of steer manure on top of the approx. 80×80 ft garden. During the winter and spring all other manures get thrown on the garden as well from goat sheds, rabbit hutches, chicken and turkey coops, etc. Then comes time like today where it is time to roto-till it all together.

  Tilling accomplishes several things at once. First of all it mixes the manure up with the soil. This eliminates manure on the top and just soil on the bottom. it mixes it very well for about 8 inches deep. This also eliminates “hot spots”, or clumps of say chicken manure that may be a little too hot and high in nitrogen levels that would otherwise burn the plants. Tilling also aerates the soil, and loosens it up to a really fine powdery like loam that plant roots thrive in. During the coarse of the winter snows and rains, the soil becomes very hard pack and not idea for root systems. So tilling basically “fluffs’ it back up, easy for little roots to grow through. oxygen levels regain balance in the soil, and makes the soil a lot more ideal for water and moisture absorption and retention. Nice fluffy soil also makes weeding a dream. Ever try to use a hoe in ground that is packed so hard it resembles concrete? You can work your self to death and still have weeds coming back up cause you never got the roots out. When soil is nice and loose a hoe travels underneath weeds easily, and pops the little suckers out with effortless grace.

  So in a nut shell, i will finish slurping down my black coffee and go fire up the old tractor (nothing better than the smell of a cold diesel engine puking out black smoke in the morning!), and it is officially tilling day!

 

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Summer Vegitables

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So you are all probably thinking “Uh huh, he said he would update once a week, yeah right.” LOL. Well, I try, but am only getting time about every other week. Last weekend we had our Annual Helmig Farms BBQ competiton so we were a bit busy.  Every year we host a large event (about 60 people this year here at our farm, where locals get together and compete in BBQ’ing in four catagories :Chicken, brisket, ribs, and pork.  Medals and trophies are awarded,  food and drink provided for every one, and a great time had by all. Alot of visitors seemed to gravitate towards the vegitable garden and asking different questions. As for our summer garden update, we took our last picking of green beans and wax beans on Tuesday night. I still need to pull up the plants as they are all done just have not had the time.  We were able to can 27 pints of green beans out of the deal, so that will be nice this winter. When canning, the wife did her batches just plain beans and some homemade bacon that I butchered and cured last fall. The batches i did i added the same homemade bacon, but also through in some homegrown chopped up white onion.  The peas are also all done, we ended up with 4 gallons of peas frozen.  They take up alot of room in the garden but are sure yummy, and for pea lovers they are a wonderful treat in the wintertime in casseroles, on salads, etc.  The pea plants are already all ripped up. Later this weekend my Dutch Flat Head cabbage is ready, so i will need to shred it and ferment it for sour Krout. Recipes are on the internet as for recipes, it takes about a week or maybe a little more depending on volume, temp, etc. Also i notice my onions have fallen over.  Stalks have not turned yellow yet, but will today or tomorrow I am assuming. So i will need to pull them as well, bunch them, and hang them. Hang onions in a cold dry place for maximum keep time. Depending on the species you can keep for example yellow onions almost into next planting season. My white onions for example, or red onions, or walla walla’s will not keep near that long due to their sugar content. You can still hang them, but they will spoil fairly quick. Debating trying some shredding and freezing methods this year for longer keep time on the white onions.  Tomatoes are doing wonderful, growing like weeds, and fruiting, but are not yet ripe. Zucchinnis have had one massive picking already. We canned 18 jars of Zuch-relish, and I gave about a dozen Zuch’s away to my mother as she likes making Zuchinni sweet pickles. She wanted to trade me a few jars in trade for the produce, but I don’t much care for sweet pickles, so politely refused. There are about another 50 lbs of Zuchinni that are still growing but not yet ready for harvest. My garlic never did all that great, as they were from 2 year old cloves, but i will take the ones I can and hang for drying to use for re-planting stock next year. Carrots are also all ready for harvest, and are very large. I added some sand into the carrot area before I tilled it this year, and they grew a world better! Much larger in diameter and length. Will probably get 10 pints or so out of the carrots.  Peppers are also doing well, jalepenos and bells, and have been being used through out the summer for cooking. I didn’t plant a whole bunch of peppers this year as i still have loads of them in the freezer from years before.  On a side note “Sammy” our Yorkshire pig is fattening up nice also, and loving the canning season! Sammy gets all the scraps from canning, and plants i yank up, etc on top of her feed ration. So she is a happy camper, and will be more than ready to butcher in fall. Butcher time is strictly dependent upon pigs weight, and cool weather. I wait till the weather is cold so i can hang the pig and age it for a few days, but not totally cold enough to freeze, as frozen animals are a PAIN to cut up and process. usually October is prime butchering season. 

Rock Bed Herb Garden

So it always seems like our farm produces more rocks and boulders than it does crops and livestock! No, actually things grow great here, but when we excavated the land when i was building the house i now have an overwelming stockpile or rocks and boulders. I definately bought a rocky piece of ground. However, instead of letting it get me down, I figured out a way to make the rocks work for me instead of against me.

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Between my pump house and an electrical tranformer (which i had already built a rock wall around to hide the ugly electrical box) I built a large rock garden bed, filled it with dirt, and it will be our “Herb Garden.”

It is still a bit early in the spring (3-11-13) to be planting alot of the herbs yet, but when the weather warms up i will plant all the seeds into the ground and let her grow. I have a fairly large collection of seeds from last spring that i purchased, with ambition of making some kind of herb growing bed. However, every day farm work, kids, and our jobs (wife is a Nurse, i am a Logger), getting an herb bed just never got done. So now, this year the bed is all done, the seeds are waiting, and we will be cooking and BBQ’ing with fresh herbs all summer! Yummy!

My design and construction of the bed may not be perfect, was just my thoughts, reasons, and materials i had at that given time, and is as fallows:

 The bed is placed on a natural ditch and water flowing line (was excavated for water and power lines to the house, so water kinda naturally flows in that area in heavy rains). To avoid over saturation of the soil and herbs, I shallowly dug up any grass in that general area. I then went into the field and packed every single rock by hand over and tossed over the fence landing next to the work area. Once i had a good supply of rocks, I started lining them up and setting them all in place so that they would not only hold in the soil, but also look halfway pleasing to the eye. Once the bed was all shaped i then used a five gallon bucket and a shovel, and placed in Approx. 2 inches of gravel in the bottom of the bed. I did this in thoughts of it will give good drainage for the herbs, but also as a water and drainage barrier for heavy springtime rains and the water that flows underneath the bed. This way the water should have a place to still flow, but not flood out my herb garden, making it a big swampy soupy mess. Any ways, once I smoothed all the gravel out i then used the tractor and got some extra soil i have piled up in numerous places around the farm and dumped it into the herb garden, smooting it out and plucking rocks sticks and weeds by hand. then Voila! Rock bed herb garden complete.

As far as the herbs i will be planting in there they include: Mint (already planted in there now), Rosemary, Chives, Basil, Horse raddish (have it growing in a pot, need to plant it in my new herb bed), Cilantro/Corriander, Stevia, Dill, Thyme, Terragon, Oregano, Sage, and i am wanting to also pick up some spearmint when ever the local store starts stocking the plants. I was thinking maybe some Lavander also since i know it is edible just to add a little color to the bed, but i may try cooking with it a bit and dabble with it before i  plant any.

While i was making the rock bed herb garden I also built along side the drive way a rock bed flower and shrub bed. I currently have some small trees in there and some flowers and shrubs, but the trees will be removed and transplanted to a different location once they are bigger and a little more mature and stable.074

I am using it for kind of an incubation/baby nursing bed for the young trees, giving them a place for them to grow a bit, establish a good root system, get used to the soil, etc. The trees that are there now but will be removed in a year or two and placed in a final location include: Oriental Spruce, Colorado Blue spruce, Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, White Fir (also known as a Piss Fir), a Willow tree, and a Golden rain tree. As far as decorative things that will stay are Forsynthias and Tulips, and will let the wife add what ever flowers she would like to add color. This smaller rock bed is purely decorative, basically just some eye candy along side the drive way (placed it up against a rock jack i build for the fence) as we/people travel up and down the driveway.